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Frank Gray

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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
A great horned owl shows its displeasure with ears folded back at Soarin' Hawk Raptor Rehab in Allen County.

Keep eye on small pets as owls prowl

Courtesy
Bill Davies holds Sammy, his Chihuahua-terrier mix, which was killed by an owl Sunday night.

It was routine for Bill Davies to let his Chihuahua-terrier mix, Sammy, out the back door in the evenings. Sammy liked to run through the tall grass on his property in rural Huntington County, and when he was done he’d come back home.

But when Davies let the dog out Sunday night, he didn’t return. He started looking for the dog about half an hour after he’d let him out and continued to search for the animal for the next two days.

He finally found his dog on a ridge about 300 yards from his home. He was dead. A friend who is an outdoorsman looked at the dog’s injuries – two sets of puncture wounds, three on one side and one on the other – and told him what had happened. The dog had been attacked by a great horned owl.

It was heartbreaking, Davies said. He’d had the dog for seven years. They used to sit on the sofa together and watch television.

He knew there were coyotes out there, and that they attack pets, but an owl? Even though he’d seen one around his property before, it never occurred to him it might kill his dog.

At least he found the dog, Davies said. Perhaps, he thought, his experience would be a good warning to other people with small pets. There are owls out there.

Davies checked the Internet. A great horned owl can lift up to 15 pounds, he said. That makes small dogs prey. Davies’ dog weighed 14 pounds.

It’s a warning worth heeding. There are owls out there. One moved into my neighborhood a year or two ago. You can hear it hooting in the evening and the middle of the night.

It’s a barred owl, not as big as a great horned owl, but big enough to worry about if you’re a small animal. I saw it once while I was walking my dog, a small “canis worthless.” The owl was perched on a limb high above the street, and it flew from tree to tree as we walked down the street stalking us. I picked the dog up and went home.

I spoke to Jim Haw, who is a member of the Stockbridge Audubon Society and a birder. Are there more owls out there, I asked?

Not that he’s aware of, Haw said, but more owls have adapted to urban life. They’ll nest in wood patches.

“There aren’t more, but they are more evident,” Haw said.

“Watch out for the snowy owls,” Haw said. They come south when food gets scarce in the Arctic, and some have already been spotted in this latitude, he said.

Snowy owls normally feed on lemmings, but lemming populations go through a boom and bust cycle, so prey periodically becomes scarce, forcing those owls south.

Small groups of three to eight have been spotted congregating on breakwaters on Lake Michigan. One snowy owl has been found dead in the road in Harlan, and others found in Paulding, Ohio, and Elkhart.

Because they fly low to the ground, they often fall victim to cars and trucks, Haw said. “They’ve never seen a car or a road before.”

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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